Rain, rain, go away … we had a brief respite last week from the rain — long enough to crudely prep some ground and plant twelve beds. But, it was definitely a rough finish, & the planting was not altogether satisfying due to remaining organic matter that hasn’t broken down due to wet, cold weather. And the rain, of course, returned on Friday morning.
So, yesterday (another rainy day) we visited Persephone Farm in Lebanon, OR for the second time in two weeks. This time we went specifically to try out the aforementioned Drängen. We’ve been in contact with the Swedish designer/distributor, but we thought it would be good to have some further physical interaction with this quirky field tool before shipping our own across the seas. It also gave us the opportunity to take some photos to share with you all:
Casey on the Drängen! You can see the basic premise here: it’s a tracked vehicle — its main purpose is to support the body in a comfortable, stable prostrate position within easy arm’s reach of the ground. From what we understand, the support system is actually a modified massage table, so it’s cushioned and easy to rest against. The metal platform to the left is for setting harvest bins or flats of transplants (or other such agricultural purpose).
In the back of the Drängen is a motor and foot pedals for controlling it. In the case of Persephone’s Drängen, it’s a gas motor, but the model we’re looking at is electric, so it will look (and sound!) different. As you can see from the back, the width of the tracks is also adjustable, so that you can straddle different sized beds. Persephone’s model also has two ‘arms’ with additional body platforms, so that it can be used by three people at once on three beds (the arms are not on the Drängen in the photo because we didn’t put them on for our trial run). Considering that our farm is a smaller scale, we’ll probably just purchase a one-person version, such as pictured here.
Thanks to the folks at Persephone’s patience and generosity in letting us play with their tools, we were able to drive the Drängen around their fields for awhile, pretending to weed, plant, or harvest as we went. It was a relatively comfortable position, especially compared to the alternative: bending over or kneeling. But it did take a few minutes to get used to the prone position — it’s vulnerable feeling at first having your face so close to the ground, especially on a moving object. It’s also kind of silly looking at times, such as when kneeling up to move from bed to bed, as I’m doing here:
If we do end up buying one of these (which we’re planning to do), I imagine our neighbors will get a kick out of watching us crawl across the ground like bugs. We’re continually doing bizarre things in our fields — this would just be the newest form of oddity!
While we were at Persephone, we also walked around and spied (with permission) on other aspects of their farm that inspire us, specifically their pastured laying hen set-up. They have a system similar to our ‘chicken wagon’ but much more developed and capable of housing a larger flock. Here’s a photo of one of their two mobile chicken houses with a young flock of Barred Rock pullets:
In addition to being aesthetically pleasing, this house features some ingenious features. First of all, note the wide eaves that provide protection from rain and sun and allow the top portion of the walls to be ventilated and still keep out weather. Very nice. Also, the side of the eaves have a gutter system that collects rain water from the large metal roof and directs it into 55-gallon barrels on either side of the house, which then each have a chicken watering fount mounted at the correct height from the bottom. Elanor told us that they never have to refill the barrels during the rainy season (and only once a week or so during the summer). The underside of the house of course also serves as a large dry space that provides the pullets weather shelter and protection from over-head predators. Again, a nice touch.
Here is Casey approaching one of two sets of doors to nest boxes …
… and the home-built nest boxes inside, easily accessible while standing outside. Not sure if you can see it in this photo, but they have the roosts in front of the top nest boxes pulled up right now to train the young pullets to not roost there at night (which usually leads to chicken manure in the nest boxes and therefore on eggs — it’s a common problem with nest boxes, solved here through training!).
An end view of the house — you can see on the far right a second rain collection barrel. In front of the barrel is the chicken’s door (you can see a pullet sticking her head out). At this point, the chickens have been trained to fly to their door, which is just a few feet above the ground. Jeff and Elanor trained them by initially providing them with a ‘training’ ramp that is now gone. Again, a useful design: non-flying predators can’t get in because there are no ramps and the house itself is an over-hang above the hay wagon chassis.
On right side of the end of the house facing the camera, you can see another double doors for egg collecting (more nest boxes inside). And, on the left is a large ‘man door’ with chicken wire at the bottom for an easy view inside (so that a farmer can check on her chickens without having to open the door).
The view inside the man door: lots of happy pullets hanging out on their roosts (made from actual tree branches, the perfect shape for the descendents of tree dwelling birds).
Let me tell you, these were some happy birds. As were the older flock who live in a similar house in another field. Similar to our set-up, they keep the birds enclosed using portable electric netting, which allows them to move the chickens to new pasture frequently (they had just moved them when we visited this time). They use a neat little rechargeable battery set-up that powers a traditional hard-wired fence charger:
It’s a nice set-up because they don’t have to buy new batteries as we will have to with our current situation (ours is non-rechargeable right now). It’s also a nice deal for them because of this:
… a 9.5 kW solar array (I’m pretty sure on the number there). Nice. They’re on the grid, which means that in the winter —when their use is low — they’re often selling power to the utility company. In the summer, they run their irrigation pumps with electricity, so they’re able to mostly supply all their own power needs. We’ve been thinking about getting some panels ourselves someday (it’s a long term goal right now), so it was great to see their set-up.
These are just a few photos, but the whole farm is inspiring. When we visit farms that have been around much longer than ours, we’re always reminded of how much we still have to figure out and do. Our ground prep situation this spring is also reminding us of that. Apparently, we’re still learning. A lot. It’s kind of painful some days.
Anyhow, in closing for today, here’s a beautiful picture looking north at Persephone Farm’s homestead area from one of their fields — a lovely sight on an otherwise somewhat depressing gray April day:
P.S. Incidentally, while we were lunching with Elanor and farm manager Seth at Persephone, Jeff was selling at the first Portland Farmers Market of the season! The Oregonian’s write-up about the market in the paper this morning opened with a mention of Jeff and Elanor’s eggs — the very same ones from these happy chickens! I’m sure that everyone who purchased those eggs at market are loving their dark yolks and tasty goodness!